SpecGram Vol CLXXXIV, No 1 Contents Letters to the Editor

Playing Off Fairness

The SpecGram Committee on Competition in Linguistics

As playoff season in American Linguistics approaches once again, we at SpecGram find ourselves drawn inexorably to the tired but essential question of fairness. If you won your office pool last season, you may like the current system, but please try to open your mind a bit and consider the situation from an objective point of view.

In the past ten seasons, Linguistics Departments from the “Big 5” leagues have had a virtual stranglehold on the playoffs. Apart from the surprising inclusion of Bowling Green State University in 2018, no department with fewer than 25 MA students has been invited to the playoffs in over a decade.

The Bowling Green story is instructive, not because it illustrates a model for breaking down the monopolization of playoff dollars by the biggest leagues, but precisely because it reinforces the fact that only an otherworldly performance (in this case, by English Department Linguist Sheri Wells-Jensen) could open a path to the playoff for a small department. It is the exception that serves only to highlight the rule.

Ottmar Ette & Gesine Müller (eds.), 2015, Visualisierung, Visibilisierung und Verschriftlichung. Schrift-Bilder und Bild-Schriften im Frankreich des 19. Jahrhunderts, Verlag Walter Frey.

Chiasmus of the Month
March 2019

The persistence of this unequal system not only penalizes small universities, it further reduces the competitiveness of American Linguists vis-à-vis the big international leagues. US institutions have been sensibly reluctant to schedule competition against the biggest international club teams; we submit to the reader some gedankenexperiment pairings: Manchester Linguists United vs. Colorado Boulder Linguistics; Real Linguists Madrid vs. Hawai’i Manoa Linguistics; Max Planck LC vs. Alabama Linguistics. The results, even purely imaginary, are appalling. True competition is needed on the American scene, if international parity is a goal.

What is to be done? What indeed can be done?

In the spirit of true competition, a level playing field, and good old fondness for the Underdog, we advance the following proposal.

First, the regular season must be shortened, to accommodate a meaningfully inclusive playoff season. Five to seven regular-season academic conferences should be an upper limit; this will provide adequate data for seeding a nation-wide playoff.

Second, the inherent disadvantages of small institution status must be reduced. We refer primarily, of course, to the disproportionate burden of lunchroom cleanup duties that fall on Linguists in smaller institutions. Linguists must have the freedom to prepare for the rigors of the conference competition season; let the anthropologists handle dirty dishes (they can undoubtedly find something theoretical to say about them).

Finally, American Universities must begin to support their Linguistics Departments in more tangible ways. Though strategic concerns prevent us from giving details in a public forum, the reader may consider the possibilities that Departments of International Relations, Military Intelligence, and Unmanned Aviation Technology may offer to small institutions struggling for any small advantage. Institutional support must bring all available resources to the table in support of Linguistics Departments.

Though these ideas do not represent a full and complete strategy, we trust that they may serve to stimulate a conversation among American institutions, which we hope will lead to a playoff system that is inclusive, competitive, and at least as fair as intercollegiate athletics.

Letters to the Editor
SpecGram Vol CLXXXIV, No 1 Contents